Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

From the River’s Edge is the first novel-length work by author Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. She previously published two collections of poetry, Then Badger Said This (1983) and Seek the House of Relatives (1985); a collection of her short fiction, The Power of Horses and Other Stories, appeared in 1990. In these works as well as in various magazine, journal, and review articles, Cook-Lynn has continued writing about people and themes related to the Sioux and Lakotah/Dakotah cultures of the South Dakota region of the United States. From the River’s Edge reflects Cook-Lynn’s continuing preoccupation with teaching as well, for the story seeks to impart a message to its readers about the cultural, historical, and political realities of the American Indian.

In From the River’s Edge, Cook-Lynn departs from the sometimes folkloric approach taken in her earlier work, with mixed results. While the story of John Tatekeya at times reaches into myth and legend for anecdotal stories related by Old Benno or Grey Plume, the narrative never achieves the synthesis for which the author seems to be aiming. Such a combination of oral traditions and modern narrative technique would seem to go along with the overall theme of culture in transition; however, the attempt may suffer from the modern narrative voice itself, which some critics view as intrusive and preachy. Also, whereas her previous work was able to convey a realistic sense of Sioux heritage through songs, dances, social customs, and family interactions, From the River’s Edge tells more about the culture of John Tatekeya and his people than it shows, and this may be a weakness of the novel.

The author should be credited, however, with producing a story that achieves a sense of complexity in many of its characters while avoiding stereotypes. Also, the apparent intent of the novel should be praised. The story seldom bogs down in overworked examples of white injustice toward Native Americans. Such scenes are present, but these episodes are interwoven with history and tradition of the Dakotah Sioux, and the result is a fairly successful interplay between the past and present.